Once upon a time, in the days of MySpace, there was a band called He Is Legend. They had the misfortune of association with the mid-2000’s metalcore scene, and worse yet, they had a long way to go in the songwriting department. Over time they went through awkward growth spurts, thankfully ditching their core trappings, but struggling with finding their own style. This metamorphosis finally culminated with 2009’s It Hates You, a damn-near-perfect blast of melody and heaviness that won critical acclaim and lots of repeat plays in my car. Upon finally assuming their ultimate form, HiL did the one thing that made sense: two months after It Hates You was released, they broke up.
Of course, no one in comic books, pro wrestling, or heavy metal stays dead forever. Inevitably, He Is Legend returned to the live stage in 2011. After a couple years of getting their feet wet and breaking in a new drummer, they began work on what would become their 5th album, Heavy Fruit.
Upon first listen, the record seems a little short on riffs — until I realized that the new-and-improved HiL is now playing a different game altogether. Guitarist Adam Tanbouz and bassist Matt Williams have reached expert level when it comes to building songs texturally. Where lesser musicians would simply dial in “heavier” tones to bluntly indicate song dynamics, Tanbouz instead works in layers. Case in point: the chorus of “Miserable Company,” which builds to maximum sonic weight using only overdubs of clean-ish guitars. Williams’ bass work shines bright throughout, holding the songs together with huge tone while also being interesting compositionally.
This record is nothing if not diverse. “Be Easy” builds from a ridiculous funk-skank riff into one of the most “fun” songs I’ve heard in forever. (Picture an alternate reality where Red Hot Chili Peppers don’t fucking suck, and you’re getting close.) “Beethozart” finds Tanbouz working an appropriately baroque chord progression while Williams and new drummer Sam Huff create tension beneath. And the closing title track is worth the wait, alternating between gentle verses and a crushing, downtuned-to-Z chorus.
For most people reading this site, I’d imagine the dealbreaker with this band will be vocalist Schuylar Croom. Most criticism of HiL is aimed at Croom’s douchey appearance and/or lack of singing ability, and there’s some truth to all of that. On It Hates You, he shocked the world by suddenly sounding like Karl Agell circa COC‘s Blind, and Heavy Fruit shows him maintaining that high standard. “Time To Stain,” for instance, would be an unbearable power ballad in the hands of most singers, but Croom’s delivery nails the resigned, passive tone of the lyrics. Elsewhere, he still has a way with surreal, hilarious verses, as on “This Will Never Work” and “Spout Mouth.”
I don’t even know how to describe He Is Legend‘s sound at this point in their evolution. At best, I picture a group of kids abandoned in a redneck-y suburb with only Pantera and Smashing Pumpkins albums. Like Queens of the Stone Age or Clutch, they don’t make for easy comparisons. Heavy Fruit takes a few listens to fully ripen, but it’s the sound of a band that has developed a truly individual sound.